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Our Top Sleep Tips for New Dads

Turn Your Baby Into an Overnight Sensation

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You dream of a baby who drifts easily to sleep every night and doesn't wake until morning. You're not the only one. According to findings from a survey conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, one in three 6- to 11-month-olds regularly wakes up needing something two or more times per night. What’s more, the survey found that fitful sleep, early waking or resistance to bedtime prevents 64 percent of babies and toddlers from getting their recommended dose of Zs a few nights a week.

The good news: It doesn't have to be this way. Here are tried-and-true techniques, some endorsed by the world’s foremost sleep experts and others derived from my experiences in the sleep wars and those of my "Caveman" co-author John Ralston.

Prepping for Sleep

  • Provide Baby plenty of mental and physical activity and stimulation during awake time. A more active baby tends to sleep better.

  • Prioritize the baby’s schedule above your own. Eventually your careful planning and commitment are likely to be rewarded with more sleep for everyone - and more adult time for you.

  • Create a sleep-conducive environment: white noise, heavy window dressings and so on.

Daytime Naps

  • Create and stick to a schedule. You control when your baby sleeps. Consistently missing naps or starting them late can easily scuttle any schedule you try to establish, making for a miserable, sleep-deprived household.

  • Try keeping the venue consistent. Babies who are allowed to frequently nap outside their normal sleeping quarters, such as in the car, stroller, etc., may have more trouble sleeping at home.

Bedtime

  • Don’t assume that a later bedtime will mean a later morning. In fact, keeping the little one up is a recipe for shorter, more disrupted nights. Conversely, an early bedtime gives babies a better chance to sleep long and sound.

  • Create and stick to a ritual. Consistently doing the same things leading up to bedtime - for example feeding, brushing teeth, reading a story, turning down the lights, getting in the crib - is most likely to keep Baby in the comfort zone. The routine can be whatever works for you - just as long as it does not overstimulate the baby right before bed. You need to wind her down, not up.

  • Whenever possible, put Baby to bed on the brink of sleep, not while asleep. This gives him a chance to learn how to find his way into la-la land.

  • Learn your baby’s sleep signals. Common cues include rubbing her eyes or face, pulling or grabbing at her ears, flailing her arms and developing circles under her eyes. Once you see these signs, launch into the sleep-time routine as quickly as possible.

Nighttime

  • Don’t bolt into Baby’s room at the first peep. Infants can be noisy and fitful at times, even during slumber. Oftentimes the disturbance is minor enough that, with a little self-soothing, he will quickly find his way back to sleep.

  • For unexpected wake-ups, first wait to see if the baby goes back to sleep. If you must go to see her, offer comfort and reassurance (patting, stroking, soft singing) while she remains in the crib; then tell her it’s time to go to sleep, say goodnight and leave. Repeat if necessary, waiting slightly longer between re-entry each time. Picking her up can lead Baby to expect more interaction, which is a bad idea at this time of night - and a potentially habit-forming precedent.

  • Do what it takes to nip habits you don’t like in the bud. It may take a few angst-filled nights, but you’ll be happy you made the effort to put a halt to behaviors such as bedtime tantrums and unnecessary middle-of-the-night feedings (most babies can be weaned from these feedings at six months, sometimes even sooner).

Overnight feedings

  • If possible, share feeding duties to give each other solid blocks of sleep and to give Baby some variety in who delivers the goods. That way, he’s less likely to grow dependent on a sleep ritual involving just one parent.

  • During feedings, keep activity quiet and stimulation to a minimum. The message to Baby: This is sleep time - enjoy the meal, but when you’re done, you’re headed right back to bed.

  • Try to gradually lengthen time between overnight feedings so he will sleep for longer stretches. The obvious goal: uninterrupted, through-the-night shut-eye for one and all.

  • Once Baby has begun stretching sleep sessions and seems almost capable of sleeping through the night without waking, don’t be afraid to wake her for a “dream feed” before you both go to bed. The dream feed, in which the baby has a bottle or breast as she dozes, can help create a bridge to through-the-night sleep sessions.

Be patient. Sack artists aren’t made overnight. But you may find that just a few days is all it takes to get a baby into a healthy sleep regimen.

 
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